Monday, May 18, 2009

Homeward Bound

I am homeward bound. Home, where my music's playing, the land of milk and honey, where the Holy has been hiding in ink this whole time. America, land where my people died, where they want YOU, where the star-spangled banner is still waving.

After 8 months away from the good ol' U S of A, I am a little apprehensive about moving back. 'A little' might be an understatement. Kili is going to have to carry me kicking and screaming from the French bakery on the corner. For as much as I hated it to begin with here, I've begun to think of France as home. And it's always hard to leave home, even when you know it's just a temporary one. Aside from my new-found attachment to a country I originally hated, I think a lot of my apprehension stems from a fear of being uncomfortable in my own country.

I am terrified of having culture shock about my own culture. And I know it's going to happen. Seeing Ian's GIANT tube of toothpaste at Christmastime was funny, but bursting into tears at the supermarket because the labels are in English is not going to be. Alright, alright, so maybe I won't be crying at the Co-op because the produce section says "grapefruit" instead of "pamplemousse", but you get the idea. Being uncomfortable in a situation where I should feel totally at ease just makes it all the more awkward. Moving to France was supposed to feel different. I was supposed to have culture shock. But returning to a country that I know, that's a different story.

Although, the past few weeks in France (actually, the whole time, really), I've begun to wonder how well I really do know my country. When explaining "America" to foreigners, I find myself at a loss. I suffix every comment I make with, "But I don't know if that's America. That's just Bellingham/Washington State" (and obviously, I am on to something with this. See Heather's comment to my post on recycling for details. We are in a little bubble in our Pacific Northwestern corner).

But the thing is, I'm sure it's the same everywhere in America. There's got to be a Dixieland Belle out there, explaining Southern hospitality or a Georgia tradition for a hot summer's night to a foreigner, qualifying her entire explanation of what America is like by saying, "But that's just Georgia". Ask a New Yorker what American food is like, they'll give you a completely different answer than an Alaskan or a Texan. Even barbecue is different in Tennessee than it is in Arkansas.

Not to wax too poetic (or patriotic…) but I guess that’s what America is. Fifty pieces full of different people, with different cultures and different lifestyles. America is just so big (that’s what she said). And it’s not enough to merely explain to my English friends about American guilt over slavery and Manifest Destiny, or to explain the root of American positivity and self-belief (I am special and unique). I guess defining America really lies in the fact that we find it difficult to define. Even Americans have a difficult time wrapping their heads around what their own culture is. We’re all strangers in an only partially strange land at home, so I shouldn’t feel so weird about being uncomfortable or not being able to explain my own culture. But that’s not going to make it any less shocking when I’m not given delicious bread with every single meal, or when I spend $10 on a bottle of wine that tastes like ink. I’ll miss you, France.


Heather said...

And on That note, come experience more of America! Visit the non-recycling southern part of California! We have sun (too much sun), beaches, surfing, and Mexicans!

Chelsea said...

Awww, I feel slightly warm and fuzzy from that. WTF. Oh wait, I think that's just the happiness in my tummy because I'll see you in just a few days! Have a safe trip!